20 March 2017 Analogue Printing Technologies

Vivid Colour breaks barriers to litho quality

Boss Print has produced its first jobs using its extended colour gamut technique, branding it Vivid Colour to discerning buyers in the fine art and top end of the corporate brochure world.

Fenton Smith is pointing out the way that the red of a fire extinguisher hiding in the background of the image has been picked out even though it is in an area of deep shadow.

On another page he picks out a detail hiding in the roof area. Then of course there are the elements on the foreground: a red table tennis bat on a green table that leaps out; bright red neon signs that are almost fluorescent; the texture of curtains; or embossed wallpaper, coral blue silk.

Every image as he leafs through the book jumps from the page. The film laminated to each sheet helps achieve the photo-like rendering of the litho printed image. And the skin tones on the naked and quasi naked models in The Act, a book by fine art photographer Julia Fullerton-Batten, are exactly as she would wish them.

Welcome to Vivid Colour, a technique pioneered by Boss Print using its 12-year-old six-colour Speedmaster CD74.

This is print of a quality that stands alongside the luminosity of Landa nanographic printing and Lumejet’s photonic imaging, but using equipment that is familiar to the vast majority of printers. It is not even the newest machine on the block, though as Smith points out, the press looks as if it is just a few months old, not with more than a decade on the clock.

Vivid Colour, he explains, is a combination of stochastic screening, which the company has been running since its earliest days, and the inclusion of an additional colour to extend the gamut of the four-colour litho by 25% above that described in Fogra 39. With the right images, the right paper and client, the quality stands with the finest print that can be seen today.

And this is Smith’s aim. Boss Print wants to unlock the door into fine art printing using Vivid Colour as the key. Currently there are a limited number of printers recognised as capable of working directly with this world. Smith gained a taste of this with The Act, working with the photographer to reassure her the finished prints would meet expectations.

It was printed on a number of GF Smith papers, including a translucent paper used for the text for the story about the subject of each image. This was printed on the company’s Indigo using violet ink. The cover design, rather than picking one of the images, uses a special Italian material with a rubber-like finish.

Boss produced 300 copies, sure to become collectors’ items. It has also produced a series of postcards from images of its waste ink drum. The colours mix together in abstract ways. These will be sent to photographers, artists and their agents with invitations to check the image against that on the website. “We wanted to say that this was the same as the colour on an RGB screen, but we couldn’t quite control that,” says Smith.

Control though is vital to the process. Stochastic printing emerged 20 years ago, partly as a way to avoid some of the problems that Rips had with screen angles in regular or AM screening. Using the same sized dots and without conventional screens would eliminate this problem and would also produce better quality of print and easier printing because colour balance is simpler and the lack of screens make registration a little more forgiving.

But it proved impractical using contact plate making and even with CTP control of the dot on the plate proved difficult. And the early algorithms resulted in unwanted artefacts in flat areas.

At the same time Rips improved, computer to plate and presses advanced and the impetus behind stochastic printing was lost. Hybrid solutions dealt with the flat tint problem and were offered as a solution, but the vast majority of printers have been happy to stick with conventional screens, albeit at 200lpi as standard rather than 150 or 175lpi. Not Boss Print.

Smith explains that the rendering of the soft drop shadows that Apple Computer’s artwork requires led him into stochastic printing and he has not stopped investigating and perfecting the technique. “Printing stochastic today is a massive leap forwards from what it was several years ago. Eight or nine years ago there was not much to read about it. More recently there is a lot more work going on,” he says.

Certainly Boss Print has been at the practical cutting edge of this. It is about creating a very stable process and platform, monitoring for 25 variables throughout and ensuring absolute cleanliness and maintenance. This involves checking that the Fuji plate used is imaged and processed correctly. “We will change the processor chemistry two or three times more frequently than is necessary,” Smith says.

Nothing is changed unless a problem arises because a formulation has been changed without warning. It has settled on Huber inks and will not change.

The result of this fastidiousness is the ability to print a 10 micron spot without fail, every time. The promises from a generation ago are there. The small dot size means a thinner film of ink, it is more transparent and therefore the colours are brighter, which is one of the claimed benefits of nanography. The consistent size of each dot makes the press easier to control and the more sophisticated algorithms used deliver flawless print.

The quality is equivalent to printing a 600lpi screen ruling, says Smith, with a greater colour gamut than using a conventional screen. “In order to achieve the Fogra standard, you have to suppress the colour gamut of stochastic printing,” he explains. “The Act would have been very very impressive even if we had just printed it stochastically. “

And the detail retained in the hair of the subjects, or their wigs, or filigree of a Moroccan lamp, underlines this. “And using Vivid Colour has taken it on a step further.”

This is because Boss Print is using violet as a fifth process colour. It boosts the colour gamut and has impact in reds and greens as well as in the blue colours. “I remember Hexachrome as the way to increase the colour gamut, but it used the same screen angles as four-colour printing and the result to my mind always looked a bit false,” he says.

There were other issues with Hexachrome – each image needed to be dealt with on its own merits for example – which reduced its impact.

The idea retained its merit and Smith looked at ways of using a fifth process colour. Orange was considered but like green was dismissed as having only a relatively small effect. “Violet produces the biggest bang for the buck. On coated paper, the colour gamut is increased by 25%; on uncoated paper the gamut is 60% bigger. It really does look like the image people are used to seeing on their computer screen.”

In The Act, each image is radically different in style, tone and colours yet each was treated identically on press. “It just becomes another job to print on press,” he adds.

The company has had to invest in the software to produce the five colour separations, on top of the investment in the time and effort to perfect this level of stochastic printing. It will act as a barrier to being copied by others, let alone those happy with the automated colour settings on a conventional press.

It is early days for Vivid Colour. Smith has high hopes for it. There is a trademark applied for and a logo built around triangles in place. This sits alongside a circle based logo for Boss Print and rectangles for Boss Boxes, the face of its bespoke and award winning packaging arm.

Vivid Colour by Boss Print, he hopes, will become well established among fine art publishers who may today look to printers in Italy or further afield to get the quality they are looking for.

There are signs they are prepared to do so: Opal Print handled the Don McCullin book published last year, and Park Communications produced Mary McCartney’s book about a production of The Tempest are just recent examples.

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The Act

The Act

Julia Fullerton-Batten's The Act was brought to full life by Vivid Colour by Boss Print.

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Paul Lindstrom - 1 year ago

Hi, this sounds like a very interesting project. I however wonder how you can claim that CMYK+Violet is equal to RGB as such (which RGB by the way  sRGB or Adobe RGB?). You probably need Orange and Green to achieve full Adobe RGB. How do you measure how close you get to RGB?